The Wall Street Journal ran a story on Christmas which explained in detail how Republican leaders and the United States Chamber of Commerce are looking to diminish the influence of conservatives both in and outside of Congress. This gives us a glimpse at the latest battle, if you will, in the ongoing Republican civil war.
You may remember that Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) lashed out at conservative groups that opposed the budget deal brokered by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). It turns out, though unsurprisingly, that this public admonition of conservatives was just scratched the surface. It turns out, as the Journal explained, that Republican leaders were threatening members with loss of committee assignments if they voted against the budget deal:
Mr. Boehner’s deputies took steps behind the scenes to end internal dissent, including among GOP committee chairmen who had voted against the House leadership in prior fiscal battles. In the run-up to the budget vote, Mr. Boehner’s deputies warned chairmen who were tempted to oppose the deal that doing so could jeopardize their committee posts, said people familiar with the discussions.
The goal was to reverse a trend in which chairmen, who typically earn their post by hewing to the party line, voted against priority legislation. Six chairmen had voted against an initial version of a farm bill earlier in the year, causing the legislation to collapse on the House floor, and 11 voted against the pact this fall to reopen the federal government and extend the country’s borrowing authority into 2014.
Again, this isn’t surprising. In fact, it’s happened before. Republican leaders purged three House conservatives — including Reps. David Schweikert (R-AZ) and Justin Amash (R-MI) — from their committee assignments late last year because they voted against Ryan’s budget, the “Path to Prosperity.”
The three conservatives contended that the proposed budget didn’t cut enough spending. They voted for the more conservative budget backed by the Republican Study Committee, which brought the budget into balance by 2017. Ryan’s proposal wouldn’t have balanced the budget until 2039.
The budget deal is a joke from a fiscal perspective. It provides a framework for future concessions on sequester spending, meaning that the deficit reduction in the deal is questionable, at best.
It’s more of the same. But that what Republican leaders are doing is just one angle of what the Wall Street Journal covered. Another part of the story is that the United States Chamber of Commerce is planning a $50 million campaign to support establishment Republican candidates running for the Senate:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce early next year plans to roll out an aggressive effort—expected to cost at least $50 million—to support establishment, business-friendly candidates in primaries and the general election, with an aim of trying to win a Republican Senate majority.
“Our No. 1 focus is to make sure, when it comes to the Senate, that we have no loser candidates,” said the business group’s top political strategist, Scott Reed. “That will be our mantra: No fools on our ticket.”
Look, no one disputes the we need to win elections and, yes, the defund Obamacare strategy was an ill-advised tactic that set back Republicans, establishment and conservative alike, for several weeks. There is also a need to focus on policies that appeal to middle-class voters.
But the latest attempt by Republicans leaders to reassert their influence and nuzzle up to cronies shows that they have learned nothing. They don’t realize that voters elected put them back in charge of the House in 2010 because they were fed up the status quo in Washington, but it’s not like wowed voters.
Sure, Republicans had the Pledge to America, a set of platitudes that they were able to disguise as a policy agenda to sell to voters, but there wasn’t much in terms of substance. Republicans won in 2010 simply by showing up, thanks largely to the work of anti-establishment conservatives.
Republicans aren’t going to win by reaffirming the notion that they have an incestuous relationship with big business, which is often counter to the interest of taxpayers. They’re not going to win by drowning out the grassroots conservative base.
Whether they realize it or not, establishment Republicans need conservatives to win elections. They’re not going to work for milquetoast candidates who are scared to take strong stands on issues. To believe that running ads in states with insurgent conservative candidates is going significant to sway opinion underestimates the primary electorate.